9 potential candidates to replace Steve Sarkisian as Alabama OC
For the second time in about a month, the greatest coach in the country is looking for someone to lead his offense.
Steve Sarkisian, who was Alabama’s offensive coordinator during the 35-31 national championship game loss to Clemson, is leaving for the same position with the Atlanta Falcons.
RELATED: Why Sarkisian went to Atlanta
Saban hired his last offensive coordinator from in-house last month. With that in mind, here are nine candidates to consider, starting with the only one who’s currently on staff.
Mike Locksley (Alabama Co-OC)
Locksley spent the 2016 season as the Tide’s analyst before being promoted to co-offensive coordinator in January.
Before coming to Alabama, Locksley was Maryland’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2012-15. In 2013, Locksley led a Maryland offense that recorded 5,000 yards for just the fourth time in school history, which included its third-best passing output.
He hasn’t done as well in his time as a head coach. He stepped in as the Terps’ interim head coach in 2015, taking over for Randy Edsall for the final six games. The team went 1-5 under Locksley.
His three-year stint as head coach at New Mexico wasn’t much better as the Lobos combined to go 2-26 before he was fired four games into the 2011 season.
Billy Napier (Arizona State OC)
It might not be too late for Napier to come right back to Tuscaloosa after being hired as Arizona State’s new offensive coordinator about a week ago.
Napier had been Alabama’s wide receivers coach since 2013, doing a tremendous job in developing All-American Amari Cooper and All-SEC selections Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.
It’s only common sense to assume that following transfer QB Blake Barnett to the Sun Devils factored into his decision to go to Tempe, but getting a shot to lead the Tide offense could weigh heavier.
Napier also spent time under Dabo Swinney as Clemson’s offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010.
Mario Cristobal (Oregon Co-OC/OL coach)
There’s a possibility that another former Alabama assistant could make a swift return to the Tide after recently heading west.
In January, Cristobal was hired as Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under first-year coach Willie Taggart after being Saban’s offensive line coach since 2013.
Cristobal is widely considered as one of the top recruiters in the country.
The Miami native has some experience as head coach at Florida International from 2007-12, a period in which the Panthers went 27-47. FIU, which joined Division I football in 2005, has still enjoyed its only winning records and bowl appearances under Cristobal during the 2010-11 seasons.
George Godsey (Former Texans OC)
It was reported by FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman that Godsey has a close relationship with Alabama offensive line coach Brent Key. Could that be key in bringing Godsey to Alabama?
Godsey just got done with a two-year stint as the Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator. It wasn’t the most impressive stretch for the Texans, who made the playoffs in each of those two seasons mainly behind a dominant defense. Only the Rams averaged fewer yards per offensive play than the Texans (4.8) over those two years.
Nonetheless, Godsey has experience under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, assuming the duties of offensive assistant (2011) and tight ends coach (2012-13) in Foxborough.
Sonny Cumbie (TCU Co-OC)
In 2016, TCU took a big step back from its back-to-back seasons with 11-plus wins the previous two years. In 2014 and 2015, the Horned Frogs were tied for fifth and third among FBS offenses, respectively, before finishing 29th this past season behind Texas A&M transfer QB Kenny Hill.
However, Cumbie still turned heads by managing to transform a TCU offense that hadn’t found any success in its first two seasons in the Big 12. In his first season, Cumbie made an immediate impact by helping the Horned Frogs become the nation’s most improved offense in scoring (+21.4 PPG) and total yards (+188.2 YPG).
During his three seasons as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Cumbie has done a phenomenal job developing Trevone Boykin as well as Bram Kohlhausen. Filling in for Boykin in the 2015 Alamo Bowl, Kohlhausen accounted for 4 total touchdowns (2 passing, 2 rushing) to help dig TCU out of a 31-0 halftime deficit en route to a 47-41 triple-OT victory over Oregon.
Jonathan Smith (Washington OC)
Smith has been coaching alongside Chris Petersen for the past five seasons, two at Boise State and all three at Washington, and the Huskies’ offense has taken huge leaps the past two years.
In terms of yards per play, Washington went from 80th in the FBS in his first season to 43rd in 2015 before ranking 10th in 2016.
Washington was extremely balanced and efficient, ranking first in the Pac-12 — and fifth nationally — in QB rating and was third in the Pac-12 and tied for 26th nationally in yards per rush.
Smith has been key in the development of QB Jake Browning, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting this past season.
Chip Kelly (Former 49ers HC)
A few former head coaches with Oregon ties could be candidates. Kelly only lasted one year with the San Francisco 49ers after going 2-14, just the franchise’s fourth season with two or fewer wins since the merger.
Kelly fared better in Philadelphia, posting at least 10 wins in 2013 and 2014. However, the Eagles went 6-9 before his departure in 2015.
Still, Kelly has proven himself at the college level, guiding the Ducks to BCS bowl appearances in all four of his seasons as head coach in Eugene (2009 Rose Bowl, 2011 Rose Bowl and 2012 Fiesta Bowl) to go with a national championship game appearance in 2010.
Oregon was eighth in scoring offense in his first season as head coach before ranking among the top three in each of his last three.
Mark Helfrich (Former Oregon HC)
Like his predecessor at Oregon, Helfrich was also recently fired. He’s still on the market after Oregon parted ways with him in December.
Helfrich makes a lot of sense for Alabama in that each of the past three offensive coordinators for the Crimson Tide have all come from Pac-12 schools (Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian).
Plus, Helfrich oversaw an Oregon offense in 2014 guided by Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, who hails from the same high school in Honolulu as enrolled 5-star QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Chad Morris (SMU HC)
While the last two guys we mentioned were former head coaches, Morris serves as one.
In 2015, Morris went 2-10 in his first season at SMU before the school saw a three-win improvement in 2016, one of those wins being a dominant 38-16 win over No. 11 Houston on Oct. 22.
Although things are looking up for Morris at the American Athletic Conference school, it’s certainly enticing to come to the premier program in the top conference in the country and have Jalen Hurts as your QB for two years along with receiver Calvin Ridley, several returning backs and, oh yeah, Saban’s top-rated recruiting class since coming to Tuscaloosa.
Morris previously served four seasons (2011-14) as Swinney’s offensive coordinator at Clemson, which was first or second in the ACC in scoring offense and total offense in three of those four years, while making the Orange Bowl twice. He also was the key recruiter in landing Deshaun Watson.